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AUDIENCE REVIEW: "Telephone": A Dance Film by Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw

"Telephone": A Dance Film by Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw

Estrogenius Festival 2023

Performance Date:
April 23rd, 2023

Freeform Review:

"Telephone," a dance film celebrating Audio Description as an art form, was screened as part of the Estrogenius Festival on April 23rd, 2023. Melissa Riker, co-producer of the festival, remarked how proud the Estrogenius team was to offer this virtual screening as the “comet tail” of this year’s extensive offerings. 


Telephone is a testament to access as a creative practice. The film screening, followed by a 30-minute Q&A, held accessibility at its core. Co-created by Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw, the film was accompanied by both live and pre-recorded ASL translation, an accompanying “FilmGoer’s Guide,” captions, and a multitude of ways to engage with the artists during the post-screening discussion.

At the core of Telephone is a game based on childhood. The dancer choreographs a movement phrase, which is then passed to audio describer via video. The describer translates the movement into words, passing it on to another dancer through Audio Description. The film begins with Michelle Mantione, a dancer verbally describing her movement as she enters into The Woods, a Brooklyn home base for editor and camerman Alex Romania's work. The game has begun.

Michelle’s narration is without pause, like a pulsing ocean tide. It fills the auditory space, accompanying the dancing body as it moves. It flows, it fills, it floods. The words are musical, but not rhythmic. They simultaneously tell the story of the dancer, and a story of their own. Michelle giggles as she finds a moment of pause, “we made it!”

The film takes us back in time to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Dances are self-filmed in the homes, or other chosen locations, of the dancers. The presence of the space is not insignificant, it plays its own role in the game of Telephone. Framed by the walls of their space, belongings, and doorways, the dancers make use of their surroundings. Some dancers opt for a more traditional dance studio, but this is not inconsequential. Each space, sound, and being becomes a player in the game.

The majority of the film is montage footage of dancers, each with their own accompanying Audio Description. Just as the dancers have unique ways of interpreting the movement, the Audio Describers do as well. Michelle’s self-description is emotional, thoughtful, and sensorial. Krishna evokes memory and a sense of nostalgia through her description. Some Describers are urgent, punctual, and frank, while others are gentle, playful, and funny. This description is not limited to the movement itself, however. The Describers of Telephone artfully intertwine literal descriptions of how the body moves, with musings on the emotion or feeling of the movement itself. Within the game, the Describers are world-makers, crafting a space for visual and auditory experiences to meet.

Just as the Telephone team (dancers, describers, producers, musicians, etc.) each play their own role in the game, so does the audience. In fact, the audience is central to this work. Krishna addresses the audience directly throughout the film, particularly visually impaired audience members. “This isn’t just art that you experience passively. This is something for all of us to be involved in. Telephone is a game.” She describes the experience of Telephone as a “communion” between audience, Audio Describers, and performers. Krishna asserts this frankly within the film, “Audio Description is art. Audio Describers are artists.”

Telephone is for everyone. Each participant and audience member plays an important role in the game; without us all, the game doesn’t work. For more information about Telephone, including future screenings of the film visit https://telephonefilm.com/ to join the game.

Rachel DeForrest Repinz, MFA


Photo Credit:
Screen-capture pulled from the Telephone trailer via https://telephonefilm.com/

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